Friday, 14 June 2013

GDS PR blitz

10 June 2013, the BBC Radio 4 world news programme World At One (WATO) carries a 5-minute report (27'32"-32'55") by Jon Manel on GDS, the Government Digital Service.

11 June 2013, WATO carries another 8 minutes (24'58"-32'55") of Mr Manel's report on GDS.

12 June 2013, Mr Manel publishes Inside the UK Government Digital Service on the BBC website.

13 June 2013, the Guardian publish a 6'50" video by Jemima KissGov.uk: how geeks opened up government featuring ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken (executive director, GDS), ex-BBC man Tom Loosemore (deputy director, GDS) and ex-Morgan Stanley man Francis Maude, their political boss (Cabinet Office minister).

What are GDS trying to tell us?

Listen, read, watch and what you learn is that GDS's staff are young, everyone dresses informally and each team has a fluffy mascot:
There is an inflatable guitar - a red one. You cannot fail to miss [notice?] the bunting. And then there are the mascots.

"For us, the Platform Team, it's an otter. His name is Jerry," one woman explains pointing to a brown and white soft toy with a rather sad expression on its face ...

As for the young civil servants in the GDS headquarters, some of them seem to have an almost evangelical spirit about them.
Some people will find the evangelical spirit which moves GDS charming. Others won't.

The idea is to model public administration on successful web companies, as ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken tells us in the Guardian video. But do Google and Facebook, for example, provide the right model?

The idea is to promote openness in government. GDS's single government domain project, GOV.UK, and their Identity Assurance Programme (IDAP) are major projects. But the Major Projects Authority verdicts on GOV.UK and IDAP have not been published.

An elite team of digital experts has sparked a radical shake-up in the way the government does its business. Some of the UK's best designers and developers are working on building a new single website for all government departments – gov.uk – but their influence has gone much further.
That's the rubric under the 13 June video on the Guardian website.

Pace Jemima Kiss, at least four professors are unconvinced that the team – or at least the Government Digital Strategy – is elite. And Dr Martyn Thomas, visiting professor at the universities of Oxford and Bristol, makes a fifth unconvinced professor – he told the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee that it's impossible to measure the quality of software systems developed with GDS's so-called "agile" methods.

The idea is to avoid the spectacularly poor value for money of some government IT contracts. An unimpeachable objective.

But how will GDS achieve it?

To be told, as we are in the Guardian video, that GDS are trying to improve the search algorithm on GOV.UK is no answer.

So-called "open systems" aren't the answer either, according to the four professors.

Will the "oligopoly" – as Jon Manel calls them – of government contractors fall in with GDS's plans for shorter contracts? Why should they? There's no need to while the big departments of state continue, as they do, to sign long contracts.

Is it the case that GDS's "influence has gone much further", as the Guardian claim? Francis Maude ends the Guardian video saying that there is enormous demand in Whitehall for GDS's services. Is there?

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spend about £200 billion a year. When Jon Manel asks about DWP's Universal Credit (UC) initiative in the 11 June WATO report, the otherwise jocular ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken becomes guarded, "not that close to it", he says (31'29"), a response which Mr Manel glosses as "not our fault, guv".

GDS hijacked IDAP from DWP and then promised to have it "fully operational" for UC by March 2013. It wasn't and it still isn't. Leaving UC high and dry.

"Not that close to it"? Ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken is the senior responsible officer owner for government-wide identity assurance and there's no getting away from it.

The Department of Health spend about £120 billion a year. What are GDS doing about their computer systems? Or the systems at the Department for Education? And what are we to make of BBC money man Paul Lewis's warning on Twitter yesterday:



Apart from GDS, the only government body we hear from in this PR campaign is HMRC, in the 11 June WATO report. The clamorous demand is muted – Lin Homer, chief executive, describes GDS as "bumptious" but adds that there's nothing wrong with that.

She can afford to be kind. GDS haven't laid a glove on her £8 billion ASPIRE contract. Or on her website, www.hmrc.gov.uk, which GDS falsely claim to have incorporated into GOV.UK.

Meanwhile, GDS have some involvement with the plan to make us all enrol on-line on the new electoral register to be used for the 2015 general election. Why don't the BBC and the Guardian tell us anything about that major project?

What about GDS's involvement with the Department for Business Innovation and Skills midata project? And the related Shakespeare Review? What about their new-found responsibility for G-Cloud? What are GDS's plans for the Government Gateway? And what do GDS have to say about cybersecurity?

MPs are worried about digital-by-default – something else the BBC and the Guardian don't mention. Something like 16 million people in the UK will not be able to use the proposed web-based, digital-by-default public services which GDS are meant to deliver. They launched the assisted digital project on 28 July 2011 to try to solve the problem. And in today's weekly GDS diary, 14 June 2013, what does ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken tell us?
Also this week  GOV.UK won two D&AD awards for our content design and the Assisted Digital team had their first market engagement event with suppliers.
Nearly two years after the starting pistol was fired, they had their first meeting with suppliers?

It's early days, you may say, GDS can't be expected to have achieved much yet. Maybe. But in that case the PR is premature. Francis Maude is up in front of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee on Monday to give evidence on digital-by-default. Let's see what that adds to the campaign.




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Update 17.11.13:

15 November 2013: Government Digital Service: the best startup in Europe we can't invest in
So what is it that GDS knows that every chairman and chief executive of a FTSE100 should know?
And what is it that every chairman and chief executive of a FTSE100 knows that GDS should know?

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

This whole GDS picture is truly disturbing no commercial organisation would allow such uncontrolled PR to go out from their IT . To add to this I asked about the cost of a project under FOI here is the response

Could you please supply the following information about the “Smart Answers” project undertaken by the Cabinet Office.
1. Total cost of the project to date. If includes “in house” work an estimate of number of man days used
2. The annual running costs of the project

I am writing to advise you that following a search of our paper and electronic records, I have established that the information you requested is not held by the Cabinet Office.
Smart Answers is not a project but a way in which content is provided on GOV.UK so that it is in the easiest format to use on the website.

So now we know GDS do not control cost of projects? But excuses by coincidence within weeks of my FOI here https://insidegovuk.blog.gov.uk/2013/09/26/updating-smart-answers-and-calculators/

Facts speak for themselves…..and in a democratic society…..?

David Moss said...

Thank you for your comment, Anonymous.

GDS were reluctant or unable to provide costs to the Electoral Commission, please see the Commission's Data mining pilot – evaluation report. The relevant points are listed here and include:

It is not possible to produce an overall figure for the cost of this pilot. This is because we do not have final costs for all pilot areas or any costs for Cabinet Office (including GDS), who conducted much of the work.

We are also therefore unable to estimate the cost per new elector registered or the likely cost of any national rollout. Any estimates of these would need to include the cost of coordinating and managing the pilot (the role taken by Cabinet Office in this pilot), as any future work with data mining would require some form of central coordination ...


You may also note that the Major Projects Authority exempted many of GDS's projects from their scrutiny.

The best of luck with your freedom of information request. And with getting a meeting with ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken.

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